Robert Brzenchek, professor of criminal justice and program manager at Peirce College, is a retired naval intelligence and police officer who has made the transition to private security and will be doing expert commentary for NBC 10 during Pope Francis' visit to Philadelphia.
As a retired law enforcement officer, Brzenchek says there are good and bad ways to segue out of the profession and into a second career.
First, he recommends socking away funds for retirement while still working as a beat cop or detective.
"My salary wasn't great, only about $42,000 as a police officer. But I tried to build a nest egg and not just live for today," something not everyone in law enforcement thinks about, he says. "Don't live paycheck to paycheck. . . . Try to fit in overtime or a second job."
Professionally, Brzenchek advises endless networking. While still a police officer in Washington, "I signed up to work extra black-tie events at embassies, the Virginia Gold Cup, anything where I knew I'd meet a defense contractor or a corporation where I might work overtime or a second job."
Many former lawmen and -women attend school during and after leaving the profession. While still a police officer, he finished his bachelor's degree and then earned a master's from American Military University. Then in 2010, he left the D.C. metropolitan force and moved back near home, joining the East Central Pennsylvania Task Force as a counterterrorism planning specialist.
That led to training others.
"In Luzerne County, where I'm from, there's a nuclear power plant, so we did all kinds of training around that," he says, as well as bomb detection and suicide prevention. The training "fueled the fire to get into the classroom and teach emergency management."
Today, he also serves on the board of Seraph, a private investigations, security-consulting, and training firm with headquarters in Tredyffrin. Founded in 1996 by Dale Yeager and Sam Sulliman, the company specializes in training and consulting for law enforcement.
To those leaving the field, Brzenchek recommends this: "Don't just jump into the first job after retirement that pays the most. Work at a defense contractor is feast or famine. Make sure you do your due diligence. Does this defense contractor or company have a long-term contract? Will it renew?"
Many of his students at Peirce College are older or entering second careers, he says.
"I teach a lot of career-changers in their 50s and 60s, many who have worked, say, for the city and want to get into criminal justice or forensic science. It's the CSI effect," he says, referring to the popular television show. "And by the way, there's no age limit to become a Philly cop."
Teaching is a natural for retired law enforcement officers, says Lisa Paris, who is in marketing at Peirce College. Her husband, Dennis Paris, worked in the Philadelphia Police Department as an undercover officer. After he retired, he went back to school, earning his bachelor's in marketing from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and an M.B.A. from Drexel's LeBow College of Business. He is now a marketing adjunct professor at Temple's Fox School of Business.
A study of law enforcement officers leaving the force for retirement found that the incidence of heart attacks was higher if retirees failed to create a regimen for themselves, according to the Maurice T. Turner Institute of Police Science in Washington.
"You eat wrong, you don't sleep, then you lose your routine," Brzenchek says. "There's also a higher rate of suicide when people leave the force."
As a result, the D.C. metro police created a policy whereby retirees had to continue coming in to the police academy for a year after retirement, and "the reintegration really helped, and heart-attack rates went down," he says
What's his advice for this security-intense papal-visit weekend? "Don't bring liquids, don't bring a purse, carry everything you need in a clear plastic bag." Forget bulky coolers and umbrellas. Those won't make it past the pat-downs and magnetometers.
"If it rains, it's going to get interesting," he adds with a chuckle. "Think of going to see the pope the same way you'd go through airport security. It's going to be that tight."
Brzenchek advised his parents not to come into the city from Wilkes-Barre, where they live.
That said, if you must travel to see the pope, "the best way to get around is PATCO or SEPTA mass transit," he says.
What worries him the most about the papal visit?
"A lone wolf," he says. "That's what keeps everyone up at night."
Philadelphia police, the Secret Service, the FBI, even the Vatican's Swiss Guard have been training for months ahead of the event. Some undercover agents and officers may be dressing as priests.
"There are going to be satellites trained all over the area, and cellphones may not work in the secure perimeter. We've never had a visit like this in Philadelphia," Brzenchek says.
"In Washington, D.C., and New York, these happen a lot. But not here."